Albrecht Altdorfer


The luxurious enhancement of this drawing, with pen and ink and opaque white watercolor on an embellished ground, suggests that it was made as an autonomous work rather than as a preparatory study for a painting. It was probably made to be given or sold to collectors.

The drawing depicts a profane subject: the encounter of a pair of lovers who sit beside a small fountain from which water flows into a streamlet. Their horse is tethered to the splintered trunk of a tree; in the distance, behind the dense wood, is a castle flanked by a craggy range of mountains.

Albrecht Altdorfer
German; ca. 1480–1538
Two Lovers by a Fountain in a Landscape, ca. 1509–10
Pen and black ink and white opaque watercolor on brown
prepared paper


One important phenomenon associated with Renaissance draftsmanship is the proliferation of drawings made as finished works, not as sketchbook studies nor as preparatory designs, but rather as complete, precious objects to be given or sold to an emerging class of collectors and connoisseurs. Albrecht Altdorfer's Two Lovers by a Fountain in a Landscape is an example par excellence. This rich scene of seduction is drawn with pen and ink and opaque white watercolor on paper tinted with a colored ground. A technique that in Italy stretched back to the early 15th century, but which found new life in German art in the first decades of the 16th century, especially for highly finished drawings like this one and another by [inaudible 00:00:44] seen nearby.

Despite the high degree of finish, however, Altdorfer has retained a sense of spontaneity in the drawing, for example, in the looping black lines that define the foliage of the trees in the top half of the sheet. Those large scale trees are also a trademark of sorts for the artist. Altdorfer was one of the leaders of the so-called Danube School, a group of artists revolutionary in their depiction of landscape scenery. It is typical of that movement that Altdorfer has here lavished as much attention on the trees and craggy rocks of the setting as on the figures.